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Campbell set to make NHL debut

Submitted by Jamie Schanback
Phone: (907) 474-6807

03/29/07

Former Alaska Nanook defenseman Darcy Campbell made a rare jump a little over a week ago, transitioning from the Division I college hockey ranks the highest professional hockey level in North America.

Campbell, who signed a two-year contract with the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets last week and joined the team last Thursday, will become just the fourth player in the history of the Nanook hockey program to skate in an NHL game Friday night when he makes his professional debut wearing jersey number 37 against the Chicago Blackhawks.

"I think my nerves will be running high but they've been there all week and I've been doing alright," said Campbell. "I'm sure it will be somewhat similar to what I experienced when I played my first game in Fairbanks. Hopefully they'll calm down a bit after warm-ups and I'll be able to play my game."

Since arriving in Columbus, the 6-foot-1, 200-pound rear guard has been able to participate in three team practices, two optional skates and two pre-game skates. The accelerated skill level of his teammates impressed him immediately but he was dually impressed by the organization's willingness to help him make a smooth and quick transition was.

"The way they (the team, coaches and staff) treat you is unbelievable," he said. "They handle every little thing for you so you just get to worry about playing and not much else."

Although he felt his game was well prepared in several areas to make the transition, he noted that his strength and decision making were two areas he has focused in on over the last week. Campbell had devoted extra hours working along side the Blue Jackets' staff to get him ready for his first game.

"I wasn't fully prepared strength-wise coming in," he said. "It is something I'll be able to focus on this summer but I've been going hard since I got here, especially after practice. Two of the assistants have been putting me through drills and showing me how to react in different plays because it's that much quicker than the college game."

One thing Campbell didn't take for granted coming into his professional career was how hard he would have to work on and off the ice.

"Most of the guys maintain the same weight throughout the year. Our practice is an hour long but most everyone is at the rink for four or five hours a day."

At 22 years old, Campbell is the seventh youngest player on the Blue Jackets 24-man roster. He is the only player, however, with no previous professional experience. While the team is not as tight-knit off the ice as the Nanooks squad was this season and the ages range from 20 to 37 years, Campbell acknowledged he is getting to know his team and that connections are being made.

"Everybody was so welcoming from the beginning but obviously it's different because you're not always just hanging out with the team," he said. "A lot of the guys have families and wives to go home to and they do other things outside of hockey also."

"(Defenseman) Brian Berard and (forward) Manny Malhotra have been great to me though. (Columbus' captain) Adam Foote even showed me the ropes; he told me not to be too nervous because of the fact that everyone had been in my position before at some point."

Alaska head coach Tavis MacMillan is heading to Chicago to watch Campbell make his debut. In addition to MacMillan, Campbell will have a group of familiar faces in the crowd as his parents, his older brother, his girlfriend and some of her family and some of his Fairbanks friends will all be present to see him take the ice against the Blackhawks.

"I've been getting e-mails from people back home congratulating me and telling me they're watching," said Campbell. "It's pretty exciting."

In three seasons with Alaska, Campbell totaled 11 goals, 39 assists and 175 penalty minutes in 114 games.

While there are several Nanook alumni currently playing professional hockey, there are no players in the NHL, despite a record-high eight skating the AHL.

"There are a lot of guys that are right on the cusp," MacMillan said. "This is distinctly different though; his first professional game will be in the NHL."

Before Campbell, defensemen Shawn Chambers (1985-87) and Dwayne Zinger (1996-2000) and right wing Corey Spring (1991-95) were the program's only alumni to have skated for the parent club of an NHL franchise. Chambers is the most decorated alumnus, having been a member of two Stanley Cup Championship teams, the New Jersey Devils in 1995 and the Dallas Stars in 1999.

"First and foremost, this is a big deal for him and his family," said MacMillan, "but it is also a big deal for his extended family--his former teammates and coaches, the program, the university and the community."

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